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Rick Warren envisions coalition of faith

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Rev. Rick Warren, one of America's best-known evangelical Protestant pastors, pleaded with about 8,000 Muslim listeners on Saturday night to work together to solve the world's greatest problems by cooperating in a series of interfaith projects.

"Muslims and Christians can work together for the common good without compromising my convictions or your convictions," Mr. Warren said during an evening session of the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) at the Washington Convention Center.

"I am not interested in interfaith dialogue but interfaith projects," said the pastor of the 24,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., who is widely known for his bestseller "The Purpose-Driven Life."

"Talk is cheap ... but love is something we do together," he added. "As the two largest faiths on this planet - more than 1 billion Muslims and 2 billion Christians - as Muslims and Christians, we must believe in this. As more than half the world, we must do something to model what it is to live in peace, to live in harmony."

His 25-minute speech, which was met with light applause at several intervals, included three suggestions: create a coalition to end religious stereotyping, work together to restore civility to American society and take a common stand against attacks on freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Criticizing the media as being "clueless as to what you believe as well as what I believe," Mr. Warren called for a "coalition of people of good will to say we are not going to allow this stereotyping of anyone. It is the truth that sets us free and we're not going to allow this."

ISNA U.S. President Ingrid Mattson introduced the pastor as a "distinguished guest" whom organizers wanted to invite because of his worldwide charitable projects.

Noting that Mr. Warren gives away 90 percent of his salary, she added, "Here is someone who, in charitable giving, is very stiff competition."

The pastor, who usually dresses in informal Hawaiian shirts, arrived in a beige suit and yellow tie. He began his speech with the common Arabic greeting "Asalam alakum," or "Peace Be Upon You." Mr. Warren said he was "deeply humbled and honored by this invitation," then cracked a few jokes about his unworthiness in being there.

Although he is an evangelical pastor, Mr. Warren was sparse in his mentions of Jesus and God. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet but not God incarnate.

"My deepest faith is in Jesus Christ," the preacher said at one point. "I am committed not only to the good news but the common good. Scripture says 'love your neighbor as yourself.' I am commanded to respect everybody."

The session, held in a cavernous hall with huge screens hanging from the ceiling, began 40 minutes late with a melodious chant from the Koran. Next were several videos, presentations, tributes, speeches and a lengthy session of fundraising.

Several speakers talked of progress among America's millions of Muslims, culminating with their being recognized by President Obama - whose father was Muslim - in his inauguration speech.